Will Idaho Finish Last?


She turned and walked away, with no where to go. There apparently wasn’t enough room, and she had not said the qualifying and final words required to get in. Up and down her arms were cuts, intentional and deep, bearing the need for both medical and psychiatric attention.


Her story is a true story, though anonymous, of a woman seeking psychiatric help here in Coeur d’Alene at Kootenai Medical Center but not receiving it because of a lack of resources and red tape, says Rob Wheeler, owner of Eagle Crest Life Services, a mental health service provider in Coeur d’Alene. It’s hard to imagine such a desperate call for help going unanswered, but unfortunately her story is one among many, and signifies a critical issue in our community and state.


With an unpredictable economy and rising unemployment, funding for mental health services has significantly decreased in Idaho, leading to what some professionals say, is a ‘mental health crisis.’ Between 2009 and 2011, 5.3 million dollars was shaved off Idaho’s mental health expenditures budget (13th largest state deduction in the nation). But Idaho is not alone. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, between 2009 and 2011 states cumulatively cut 1.8 billion dollars from their budgets for services for children and adults living with mental illness. “You have to threaten to pull the trigger to be admitted,” says Wheeler. “If they admitted everyone who came through their doors, it would require 200 more beds.” Less financial or public support for those who suffer from mental illness does not mean less people are suffering from mental illness, it means more people will be undiagnosed, untreated, and unmedicated.


In an attempt to reign in spending and balance the budget, the Idaho Legislature is slowly overhauling some of the most vital mental health services to some of the most vulnerable community members. For Eagle Crest Life Services, they’re still operating on resources from 1995, and thus haven’t received a significant rate increase in over a decade. Eagle Crest Life Services, which aims to reintegrate patients into society, has seen their patient service hours decrease from 20 hours to 4 hours per week, regardless of the patient’s symptoms or needs. “To try to save money, we’re going to end up spending more money in the long run,” says Wheeler. “These groups of people will get their needs met somehow- either through emergency rooms, jails or state mental hospitals, which are a lot more expensive than [psychosocial rehabilitation services].”


The greater implications of not helping the mentally ill are profound. On the front page of Sunday’s, September 18, 2011, Coeur d’Alene Press, is a disturbing article on suicide in Idaho. According to the article, “Idaho has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, the suicide rate in the state’s northern counties is even higher, and it has been going up steadily in recent years.” Idaho’s suicide rate is double the nation’s rate, and is even up from 2008. In 2009, 307 suicides took place in Idaho, 52 of which were in the state’s five northern counties. In the last year, four students from the Coeur d’Alene School District have committed suicide. Four teenagers. They had barely begun life. If we don’t provide more mental health services, an increase in incarcerations, hospitalizations, homelessness and suicide will continue.


As someone who has a close family member dealing with mental illness, I can you assure how accurate these statistics, quotes and stories really are. They represent loved ones, neighbors, co-workers and friends- some of whom you might not even know battle a mental illness. Receiving support made all the difference in my family member’s recovery and rehabilitation. Mental illness not only affects individuals, but families, as well as our whole community. We cannot afford to compromise on an individual’s health and well-being, and if we do, we jeopardize our civil obligation and the dignity of our own humanity.

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